Words Fail

Even for wordy people, there are moments in life when words fail us. Sometimes the words seem inadequate to the task. Sometimes the awe is too great, the sadness too profound, or the joy too immense.

As I watched my youngest receive her Bachelor’s Degree, I felt a mix of all these emotions: awe, sadness, and joy, all coupled with enormous pride. Her elder sister’s accomplishments have also been amazing and this does not take away from those moments. Those were “firsts” for us. These are closer to “lasts”; thus, the sadness.

This is our baby who walked across the stage and collected her degree. This is our younger child, who has been literally racing to catch up since the day she was born. She is a competitor in life. Never interested in living in the shadow of her gregarious and talented older sister, this one began life intent to not just keep up, but to outdo. Today, she deserves all her own accolades.

This one started out holding onto just my pinky finger when her hands were too small to grasp my whole hand. This one started to speak, hesitantly at first, and then stopped speaking for several months until she started to talk again in complete and fully formed sentences. This one hid behind me sometimes, too bashful to say hello to people on the street. This one insisted while sitting on her hands at the age of three that she couldn’t pick up her toys because she “had no hands.” This one was tentative on the playground with other children. This one was always a “joy to have in class” according to her teachers, and something of a hellion at home, where she felt completely free to reveal her inner audacity.

Now she is beautifully grown and has entirely emerged from her shell to demonstrate her level of ambition to the rest of the world. She is direct and sometimes uncompromising. She expects a lot from herself. She doesn’t just reach for what she wants in life, she works hard to earn it. No one pushes her; she pushes herself. And she does it all with compassion for others, a deep belief in justice for all, and unwavering faith.

We are delighted beyond words that she is determined to create the life she wants. Those steps across the stage to receive a handshake and diploma represent the completion of her undergraduate education where she has flourished, and the beginning of her next steps which will bring even more challenges as she heads to law school in the fall.

I am delighted that our once curly-topped, coy toddler has blossomed into a poised and savvy young woman ready to start the next phase of her life. She moves on with all of our love and pride and joy, with just a twinge of sadness that our baby is fully grown. So just pass me a tissue when these emotions begin to leak from my eyes. I have no more words. They have failed me.


Mothers and Daughters

Mother’s Day is rolling around again and there are many, many thoughts in my head.

First, I think of my mom. At age 86 she is going strong; very strong. This weekend, my sister and I will pack up everything in her kitchen in order to get it ready for a complete remodeling job which begins Monday. We’ll leave her with just some paper plates, a microwave, and her refrigerator, all moved into a temporary space in the dining room. Once the demolition begins she will have to make do with cereal, sandwiches, and anything she can heat in the microwave. If this sounds like a hardship to you or you have ever lived through a kitchen remodeling project I will just point out one thing again: Mom is 86 years old. Also, she is very much looking forward to this (not the plaster dust and the work involved, but the finished product.)

It’s a thrill, really, to live vicariously through one’s own mother as she makes this home her own. When we first looked at the place last August she knew the 1950’s kitchen would need an overhaul. She hoped to have it done before she moved in in November, but that was not to be. Now, instead of one of the first pieces to tackle, it will be the final piece; the jewel in the crown. She has already made decisions about paint and fabric and furniture placement and storage options and appliances and a variety of other items that one needs to think about when moving into a new home. Throughout all of it she’s been a trooper. We can all take a lesson from my mother who may have slowed down a little physically, but in her mid-80’s is still lucky enough and healthy enough to establish her own lifestyle and quite determined to live life on her own terms.


Me, Mom, and my daughters last April

Mom has thanked us many times over for our assistance as we have moved boxes, ripped up carpeting, painted, and hung draperies. Her comfort and enjoyment has been our reward. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! We look forward to working for you for a long time to come, and you’d better make us something delicious when that kitchen is finished!

Next, I think of my daughters. For 25 years I have watched them grow into the thoughtful, savvy, resourceful, caring, and purposeful young women they are. Next weekend we will experience the joy of family togetherness as we gather for the younger one’s college graduation. We’ll take Mom along so she can see her granddaughter walk across the stage and receive her diploma. There will be tears, mostly mine.

Being a mother has changed me in ways that I never knew were possible. I am simultaneously stronger and more emotional, capable and inept, confident and insecure. I was never a nurturing person, by nature, yet their very presence has brought out some of that spirit in me. I am definitely more cautious and more careful with my own health, mainly because I want to be around to see how they really turn out. I want to be there for all of the big events in their lives and the small ones, too.

When you are a parent, your needs will always take a back seat to the needs of your child. When you are the parent of grown children, you don’t stop caring or worrying about them. But if you are lucky, as I have been, you will see that those children whose scraped knees you used to bandage are now loving, thinking, independent people who may still need you once in a while and will still call just to let you know you remain important in their lives.

I did not set out in life to be a mother. There were many times in my life when I had no interest in raising children and was convinced I would be really lousy at it. As the years have unfolded, motherhood turns out to have been life’s greatest reward.